Sorry for the relative dearth of posts in recent days. I’ve been traveling and semi-off the grid with the holiday and other miscellaneous projects and tasks. I spent most of the day traveling and in meetings. But between them I have been looking into the feverish dialog and jousting in the President’s war against CNN.
As I have noted before, on so many levels this is the phoniest of wars. I have seen arguments in recent days that President Trump thinks CNN President Jeff Zucker owes him his job at CNN or that since Zucker brought The Apprentice to NBC when he led that network that CNN’s current coverage shows some personal disloyalty. Trump also suggested yesterday that NBC may also be disloyal because he made the network a lot of money with The Apprentice. It is bizarre that great matters of state are now hostage to the President’s fantasies about earlier business ventures. And maybe Trump does have some particular beef with Zucker. But none of this really seems convincing to me. My own take is that Trump’s war with CNN is based on CNN’s being the most workable ref.
Remember, CNN literally keeps on payroll a small band of Trump toadies, none of whom had any public career before they emerged as reliable Trump supporters during the first months of the campaign. Fox is the Trump loyalist network. MSNBC, though shedding some of its liberal orientation, is nonetheless still identified with marquee liberal opinion journalists. It’s only CNN that puts itself forward as non-ideological and thus is more game-able by a bully President.
But whatever the origin of the phony war, that genesis is far less important than its growing intensity. CNN is a big player, a full grown up in corporate terms. They are hardly a victim in any way we normally think of. It made a lot of money with its wall to wall Trump ‘let the cameras roll’ coverage. But the intensity of vitriol keeps growing. The initial pro-wrestling gif was perhaps notionally threatening. But it was also unmistakably comical. Look through the pro-Trump threads in the last couple days on Twitter however. The new gifs are far darker. Trump as airplanes careening into the CNN ‘twin towers’. ‘CNN’ blowing its head off. They’re like memeified snuff films, all about norm-busting and shock value and violence. Andrew Kaczynski, the sleuthing wunderkind at the center this story, now sees his family inundated with harassing phone calls. The network itself has dramatically beefed up security in the face of not-unreasonably perceived threats.
We live in a highly, highly polarized age in which threats and violence are growing in frequency and not limited to the right. Let’s not forget the horrific shooting in DC only weeks ago. Rep. Steve Scalise was readmitted to the ICU today and underwent another surgery. Two yahoos were arrested in Arizona for menacing Republican Senator Jeff Flake. Yet only on one side is a major political leader – scratch that, the President of the United States – goading and baiting supporters into higher levels of agitated aggression toward a news organization. The whole campaign is entirely cynical and based on nothing but the President’s dominationist mentality.
And it’s this mentality – something between ideology and worldview – that I’ve had on my mind. What is it about Trump that animates his most ferocious supporters? In this case I’m not really talking about the vast majority of people who voted for him or even the smaller segment of voters we call his ‘base.’ I’m talking about the most ferocious voices on social media, in the press, the most agitated and extreme supporters. They mix a rage against his opponents with a slavish adoration of the man himself. None of us are ever good or impartial judges of the praise and esteem people bestow on people we find low and mean.
But what is the common thread, I ask myself, uniting what we’re seeing? It is what I have increasingly come to see as the dominationist mentality. I’ve written before about Trump’s binary, zero-sum worldview of the dominating and the dominated. For him this is clearly something that transcends ideology in any articulated form but seems to be primal, instinctual in the man himself. But even if it is rooted in the personal history or psyche of this one man, the posture of aggression and the will to dominate clearly resonates with a substantial swath of the public. It does so in an extreme form with the alt-right crazies – the common urge to praise Trump lavishly and thrill at his aggressive attacks. But it does so in a more muted way in the general attack on social and political norms, the impatience or even disgust with any brakes on the unbridled use of power. It is quite simply a worship of power and the most raw expression of power which is violence.
As I said, it’s hard to make sense of the entirety of this. Because at many levels it’s all nonsense and play-acting, like everything else in Trump’s phony world. But heads of state leading campaigns of lies and incitement and threat against a major news organization? That’s simply not normal or remotely in bounds of anything this country has ever accepted. It really is what we expect from brutalized quasi-democracies like Venezuala and now Hungary and at a more distant remove Russia. We’re not close to those. But we’re close enough to see parallels and many other things that have and should be unimaginable.